Oregon’s Governor Spares 17 Murderers Who Deserve To Die

It is clear the the 2022 Ethics Alarms Award for the Most Incompetent Elected Official of the Year is going to come down to the wire. Oregon Governor Kate Brown, already a strong contender (as she was in 2021 and 2020), just delivered a pure grandstanding exhibition that insulted multiple juries, undermined the rule of law, and in effect lowered the penalty for vicious murder to that of far less heinous crimes.

Her decision to commute the death sentences of 17 convicted killers who have forfeited the right to live in civilized society is legal, and the power she has to make it is necessary. There has to be some safety valve for the justice system, which is bound to fail as all systems do, and making the executive the final arbiter of extreme and unusual cases is the best of several flawed options. However, many governors abuse this power, and, like Brown, use it to pander to a political base. Here, from Oregon Live, is the list of the seventeen men on Death Row that Brown feels deserve to continue to live at taxpayers’ expense:

  • Jesse Caleb Compton, a Springfield methamphetamine user who was convicted of killing Tesslyn O’Cull, the 3-year-old daughter of his live-in girlfriend. The girl’s body, found in a shallow grave in 1997, showed signs of being bound, shocked and sexually assaulted and prosecutors called it the worst case of child abuse they had ever seen.
  • Clinton Wendess Cunningham, an Oklahoma resident who was convicted of raping and murdering 19-year-old Shannon Faith of Vancouver, B.C., in 1991 after he picked her up hitchhiking near Coos Bay. Cunningham stabbing Faith 37 times, then dumped her partially-clothed body by the side of a logging road near Elkton.
  • Randy Lee Guzek was sentenced to death in 1988 after he was convicted of killing Rod and Lois Houser, of Terrebonne. Guzek, who was 18, shot Lois Houser three times with a handgun, chased her up a staircase and shot her for the last time as she huddled inside a closet. Two other men were also convicted of participating in the murders.
  • Gary Dwayne Haugen was convicted of aggravated murder in 1981 for killing the mother of his ex-girlfriend at her Northeast Portland home. He beat the woman to death with his fists, a hammer and a baseball bat and was sentenced to life in prison. Then in 2007 Haugen, along with fellow inmate Jason Van Brumwell, was convicted in the 2003 killing of fellow prison inmate David Shane Polin, 31, in the activities area at the Salem prison.
  • Michael James Hayward and three companions were convicted of killing a convenience store clerk and severely beating another in 1994. Frances Walls died after a metal bar went through her skull; Donna Ream survived despite being hit more than 50 times with a metal bar and losing nearly half her blood.
  • Robert Paul Langley Jr. was convicted of killing and burying Anne Louise Gray, 39, and Larry Richard Rockenbrant, 24, in separate incidents in 1988.
  • Christian Michael Longo was convicted of killing his wife and three children on the Oregon Coast. Their bodies were recovered from two coastal inlets around Christmas 2001. Longo went on the lam and was eventually captured in Mexico posing as a travel writer.
  • Ernest Noland Lotches was convicted of killing William G. Hall, 33, a downtown Portland security guard during a running gun battled that terrified Saturday shoppers in August 1992. Hall, a security guard for the downtown Economic Improvement District, had tried to question Lotches about a minor assault. Lotches fled, and the two exchanged gunfire. Hall died after pulling a 9-year-old child out of the line of fire as Lotches was trying to commandeer a car.
  • Michael Martin McDonnell had been serving a sentence for perjury and theft when he walked away from the Oregon State Penitentiary on Nov. 21, 1984. While an escapee, McDonnell stabbed Joey B. Keever, 22, of Roseburg, 42 times in her pickup truck near Yoncalla on Dec. 22, 1984. Keever’s throat was cut and she was dumped near U.S. 99. McDonnell was the second man charged with capital murder after voters re-instated the death penalty in November 1984.
  • Marco Antonio Montez and Timothy Aikens beat, raped and sodomized Candace Straub in a Portland motel room in 1987. They then strangled her with a bed sheet and set her body on fire. Montez was later arrested in Idaho. Aikens is serving a life sentence.
  • Horacio Alberto Reyes-Camarena stabbed Maria Zetina and her sister, Angelica Zetina, and dumped their bodies along U.S. 101. Despite 17 stab wounds, Angelica Zetina survived and identified Reyes-Camarena as her attacker. On appeal to the Oregon Supreme Court, his attorneys argued that his statements to police should have been suppressed because he was not informed of his right to speak with his consulate. He is a Mexican citizen and was the only foreign national on Oregon’s Death Row.
  • Ricardo Pineda Serrano was convicted for the 2006 shooting of Melody Dang, 37, and her sons Steven, 15, and Jimmy, 12. Prosecutors said Serrano was seeking revenge against Mike Nguyen, Dang’s partner. Nguyen had an affair with Serrano’s wife, Melinda, and got her pregnant. Melinda Serrano testified in court that her husband beat her, raped her and left her so terrified that she was unable to take their five children and leave him. She filed for divorce in 2011.
  • Matthew Dwight Thompson was convicted of murdering Andrew J. McDonald and Paul Whitcher. Thompson stabbed McDonald 14 times after returning to a Portland tavern he’d been kicked out of. He also stabbed McDonald’s wife, Deborah Oyamada, and another tavern patron. McDonald died on the way to the hospital. Later that night, Thompson stabbed Whitcher, who was found dead in the intersection of Northeast 61st Avenue and Sacramento Street.
  • Bruce Aldon Turnidge and his son, Joshua Abraham Turnidge, were found guilty of all charges in the Dec. 12, 2008, bombing at West Coast Bank in Woodburn. The explosion killed two police officers, Woodburn police Capt. Tom Tennant and Oregon State Police senior trooper William Hakim. Another officer lost his leg and a bank employee was injured when police tried to dismantle the bomb.
  • Joshua Abraham Turnidge testified in his own defense, suggesting his father acted alone. During the trial, Turnidge showed no signs of emotion until the day the court listened to a recording to a phone call he had with his daughter while in custody.
  • Mike Spenser Washington Jr. shot witness Mohamed Jabbie seven times after he testified against Washington before a Multnomah County grand jury on Sept. 23, 2004. Jabbie had testified that Washington assaulted him after he’d begun dating Washington’s long-time girlfriend.
  • Tara Ellyssia Zyst (also known as Karl Terry) was convicted for hacking Jeffrey and Dale Brown to death with an 18-inch long Japanese sword as they slept on Aug. 6, 1994. The three were camping in a Milwaukie park next to the Willamette River in celebration of Dale Brown’s birthday

Jesse Compton seems like an especially admirable fellow, don’t you think?

If Brown had just said, “I am commuting the sentences of these condemned citizens because I feel the death penalty is immoral” and left it at that, I could respect the decision, sort of. She didn’t have the sense to do that, however. Instead, she blathered the full panoply of anti-death penalty talking points, many of which are irrelevant to the cases at hand:

“Unlike previous commutations I’ve granted to individuals who have demonstrated extraordinary growth and rehabilitation, this commutation is not based on any rehabilitative efforts by the individuals on death row. Instead, it reflects the recognition that the death penalty is immoral. It is an irreversible punishment that does not allow for correction; is wasteful of taxpayer dollars; does not make communities safer; and cannot be and never has been administered fairly and equitably.”

Well,

  • There is no “recognition” that the death penalty is immoral. That’s an opinion, and a hotly debated one, not a fact.
  • That it is an irreversible punishment is one of capital punishment’s virtues, indeed it is crucial to the concept.
  • “That does not allow for correction”? In what Bizarro World  would monsters like those 17 be “corrected,” and what fool would trust the claim that they were?
  • It is only wasteful of taxpayer dollars because anti-death penalty zealots have turned the process into one of endless appeals. This is my least favorite of the disingenuous anti-death penalty arguments: the same people who make the just execution of murderers expensive use the expense to justify their position. Cute.
  • It does not make communities safer? As my father liked to say, it sure makes communities safer from the people executed. Apart from that, Brown’s statement is another theory that is not settled.
  • The issue of whether the death penalty “cannot be and never has been administered fairly and equitably’ is irrelevant to the 17 convicted killers that she is sparing today. And she is wrong: it certainly can be administered fairly and equitably. Just raise the burden of proof to “absolute certainty.” That would cover Ted Bundy, Osama bin Laden, the D.C. Snipers and the mass shooters, and most (maybe all) of the 17.

28 thoughts on “Oregon’s Governor Spares 17 Murderers Who Deserve To Die

  1. I’ve begun rating empathy as the most dangerous progressive concept these days. I’m sure, given the opportunity, she’d give all these guys a hug.

    • I see she’s famous for being “the country’s first openly bi-sexual governor.” But she lives with her husband, who’s apparently a guy. Does not compute.

        • EC: I get your point, but would it not require an overt behavior to claim you are “openly” anything? I believe what OB is trying to get across is that claiming to be Bi-sexual is hard to prove unless you are actually having an adulterous affair with someone of the same sex. The claim could merely be one that never needs to be proved but creates false bona fides with a particular demographic group. What stops any candidate running for office to make such a claim when proving it would violate one’s marriage vows. There is simply no way to prove the claim either way just by saying so.

          • As far as I’m aware, being “openly [sexual orientation]” means deliberately allowing one’s sexual orientation to become public knowledge (including by referring to it or answering questions about it), as opposed to concealing it to avoid prejudice.

            You’re right that she’s presumably not doing anything to “prove” her bisexuality. If she were lying to score political points, that would be unethical. It may also be risky, depending on your constituents. (Now I’m wondering about the expected net effect on one’s popularity as a politician of coming out as bisexual, and the circumstances under which a politician would do so.)

    • I think we should establish a program called LARK – Liberals Assume Responsibility for Killers, and she should have to provide care for one such murderer.

      • Because they can reform themselves, I think they should all be given housing in her neighborhood at the state’s expense during a work release program. Maybe she should let one of them stay in her guestroom so her stepchildren can get to know them. It would certainly increase the diversity of her household in an admirable way. Or maybe they should be paroled ASAP by the parole board.

  2. Jack:

    “If Brown had just said, “I am commuting the sentences of these condemned citizens because I feel the death penalty is immoral” and left it at that, I could respect the decision, sort of. ”

    I want to hear about that “sort of.” Such a statement would almost certainly have disqualified any juror sitting on those cases (or at least invited more questioning). Her job is to enforce the law. That includes punishment of criminals, punishment that includes the death penalty. If she can’t do that, she should not be in office. But, even if she disagrees with the death penalty, she should work to abolish it through the legislature. She’s in Oregon, after all. Those arguments would probably work.

    -Jut

    • “Sort of” as in “the pardon and commutation power needs to be absolute to work (as with presidential pardons), so if it is on the basis of “because I think its the right thing to do, so there,” I’ll accept it. However, when there are rationalizations, dubious assumptions and false claims made to justify a decision, it loses my support rapidly.

  3. “It is only wasteful of taxpayer dollars because anti-death penalty zealots have turned the process into one of endless appeals. This is my least favorite of the disingenuous anti-death penalty arguments: the same people who make the just execution of murderers expensive use the expense to justify their position. Cute.”

    Fair point. I still prefer “unusual and potentially cruel” punishment” to the death penalty, because I believe the most ethical thing to do is to give people an opportunity to learn something even if the only way they learn is through suffering. (Ethically, they should also be given the opportunity to learn without suffering.)

    However, I also sympathize with the inclination to write people off. It is indeed more cost-effective and in some cases an accurate judgment of their learning (in)capability.

  4. I’m pretty sure the “that does not allow for correction” remark is in reference to the inability to reverse the decision if exonerating evidence should surface later, not whether the scumbags can be rehabilitated.

    • You may be right, but its still irrelevant to these 17 cases. Also sloppy, ambiguous language. Is it called the “Department of Corrections”? Isn’t ‘corrections’ a term of art in this context? I’m pretty sure that doesn’t mean “Department of Correcting Miscarriages of Justice.”

      She’s an idiot.

  5. If it were somehow the case that I would be required to personally (and legally) cut Compton’s throat as the only alternative to his release, God help me, I think I’d pick up the knife.

    Al of those people are despicable, but that sort of brutality to a child is unforgiveable.

  6. “Just raise the burden of proof to “absolute certainty.””

    And who decides on when they are “absolutely certain”?
    The jury? Wouldn’t the jury convict only if they were absolutely certain?
    The DA? How many DAs have hidden evidence from the defence?
    The judge? How many of those can be relied on to get it right?

  7. It is rare that a convicted child-murderer survives long outside death row. There are many opportunities for Karma to take a turn.

  8. The quality of mercy is not strained;
    It droppeth as the gentle rain from heaven
    Upon the place beneath. It is twice blest;
    It blesseth him that gives and him that takes:
    ‘T is mightiest in the mightiest; it becomes
    The throned monarch better than his crown:
    His sceptre shows the force of temporal power,
    The attribute to awe and majesty,
    Wherein doth sit the dread and fear of kings;
    But mercy is above this sceptred sway;
    It is enthronèd in the hearts of kings,
    It is an attribute to God himself;
    And earthly power doth then show likest God’s
    When mercy seasons justice. Therefore, Jew,
    Though justice be thy plea, consider this,
    That, in the course of justice, none of us
    Should see salvation: we do pray for mercy;
    And that same prayer doth teach us all to render
    The deeds of mercy. I have spoke thus much
    To mitigate the justice of thy plea;
    Which if thou follow, this strict court of Venice
    Must needs give sentence ‘gainst the merchant there.

    😉

  9. … prosecutors called it the worst case of child abuse they had ever seen.

    That reminds me of an unpleasant story I once heard, ascribed to the old U.S. south. The dead body of a black man was found floating in a river, bound, gagged, arms and legs broken, burned from a tyre around his waist, shot in the back, stabbed in the chest, and with a broken noose still tight around his neck. The coroner called it the worst case of suicide he had ever seen.

  10. The most immoral aspect I find in this story is the fact that most of these crimes were adjudicated in the last century. If our justice system needs revamping then we need to start with the appeals system. Whether one quotes Shakespeare of Scripture, mercy is an attribute of God. We can imitate His mercy but never substitute for it. Mercy and justice also call out the punishment of the offender.

  11. The commutation won’t force her to pay a political price – she is a lame duck governor and commuted the death sentences of all Oregon’s death row inmates. This is the last act of a Democrat politician walking out the door, giving the finger to the state’s citizenry.

    jvb

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